At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Ronin “98”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Jonathan Pryce, Skipp Sudduth, Sean Bean, Michael Lonsdale, Katarina Witt, Féodor Atkine/ Runtime: 121 minutes

I am pleased to start this review off by letting you know that the film I am reviewing today, 1998’s Ronin really truly is a very special film. That is because, although it was not his last film he ever made, this is undeniably the last genuinely great movie ever helmed by iconic film director John Frankenheimer. A man who, among other titles including the now-infamous 1996 Island of Dr. Moreau, gave us quite a few class act yet also incredibly intelligent yet also riveting entries in the thriller genre of movie magic including the Kirk Douglas/Burt Lancaster-starrer Seven Days in May from 1964, and the Frank Sinatra/Raymond Burr/Angela Lansbury-starrer The Manchurian Candidate from 1962 respectively among others. Suffice it to say then that Ronin is a film which manages to operate as a riveting tribute to a lot of what made Frankenheimer a truly top-notch film helmer whilst also moonlighting as an instruction manual for the world of movie magic on just how exactly one goes about making a riveting action-thriller. Of course, when one sees the talent that was assembled both in front of the camera as well as behind it, a group that included legendary scribe David Mamet, director of photography Robert Fraisse, and a top-flight cast including Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, and an in-top form Robert DeNiro leading the way, I can honestly say that it isn’t surprising to learn that this movie is as good as it is. Yes it may not have gotten the attention it deserved during its initial theatrical run, but if you are the kind of person who wants to see what true movie magic can look like or just wants to see one of the more underrated action-thrillers of easily the past 40 years then trust me when I say that this film is exactly what you are looking for and then some.

The plot is as follows: A group of men find themselves being assembled in Paris for some kind of mysterious assignment headed by a woman who we soon learn is named Deirdre. It is also around this time where we also soon learn that this group of men is, amidst other ingredients of some significance or another, a group of highly trained former covert operatives and weapons experts now functioning as mercenaries for hire to the highest bidders. These men go by the names of Sam who quickly finds himself becoming unofficial team leader and point man, an acquisitions specialist by the name of Vincent, a computer and tech whiz who goes by Gregor, a weapons man named Spence, and a talented driver by the name of Larry respectively.  We soon learn that the ragtag team will be granted a 5k allowance per week for at least 4 weeks for a mission that involves the simultaneous ambushing and assaulting of a trinity of cars containing at least 8 well-armed people who have a mysterious case on them that needs to be recovered for reasons unknown. Suffice it to say that initially Sam becomes the voice of concern due to both not having any kind of solid intel whatsoever though the fact that at least one of the team can’t for the life of them effectively plan an ambush does make matters even more frustrating. Yet things soon go from bad to worse when not only does a deal to acquire weapons severely go south, but we also see a gang of Russians make an attempt for the case thus moving up the deadline for the plan to go down which results in the team being also and quite swiftly betrayed by a member who has an agenda all their own. Thus the hunt is now on for both the betrayer and the case and trust me when I say that the game has truly only just begun…..

Now as stated in the very first paragraph movie lover, this is a film that is blessed with a truly wonderful degree of talent to be found amidst the credits responsible for bringing it so vividly to life. Indeed not only is this film beautifully helmed, brilliantly written, and given a wonderful musical accompaniment, but it also has a fantastic cast to help bring it vividly to life. Indeed each of our cast of characters is enigmatic in their own manner and each also has their distinct background, mannerisms, and skills all defined by what the script allows us to learn about them. Of course it should come as no surprise to learn that defining performance of the film comes to courtesy of perennial screen icon Robert DeNiro who does a truly wonderful job in the role of Sam. Indeed here is a man who is 100% the professional and skilled enough to prove it, but also is someone who has a respect for not only his trade, but for those who he is working with as well and who is willing to speak up and say what is on his mind whilst also being there for those who are there for him. Suffice it to say that this is one of the finer, if not astonishingly underrated, entries in DeNiro’s vast filmography but in all fairness when you’ve had the career that man has had…..sometimes some performances unfortunately get lost in the shuffle. Yet not willing to let DeNiro carry the film by himself, the film also manages to get wonderful performances from Jean Reno as Sam’s buddy buddy of sorts on the team Vincent, Natascha McElhone who brings a wonderfully cool and calculated demeanor to the role of Deidre, Stellan Skarsgard who is just the right element of ruthless yet also arrogant in the role of Gregor, Jonathan Pryce, and even Sean Bean whose role in this is one that is both rather unique for him and also possessing of an arc that actually has a darkly amusing conclusion to it. Suffice it to say then that everyone involved from a performing angle on this all know what is expected of them and all rise to the challenge remarkably well and give us performances that ate truly top-notch in every sense of the word.

Now it should be noted that Ronin is a terrifically suspenseful and on edge film from the very first frame where we begin to see our cast of characters as they are introduced to us to all the way to the point where the credits at long last begin to roll. Indeed even in the more “tranquil moments”, there is a lot to take in courtesy of our cast really looking over the environment and each other to the point that they are trying to figure out just who they can trust due to the analysis of both body language and a person’s distinct dialect. Indeed the movie manages to conjure up the best vibe possible, one that is equal parts enigmatic and foreboding, with the cast assembled managing to showcase a keen level of anxiety, assertiveness, and perhaps even a hint of fear as things slowly but surely start to reveal themselves. Indeed the film is so uncomplicated that it might even feel, if you’re not expecting that, like a truly unique cinematic viewing seeing as you’ll get to see a story unfold with no unnecessary ingredients whatsoever. Suffice it to say then that Ronin manages to do a wonderful job at both conjuring up and then regaling movie lovers with a to the point narrative that manages to be riveting and engaging without a lot of the typical hullabaloo that you might perhaps be expecting.

More than anything however, Ronin is also an entry in the Action genre of movie magic and in addition to all the other positives that I have previously mentioned, it should be noted that this slice of cinematic pie is one that also acts a riveting showcase for several action beats which form the groundwork for the whole viewing experience. To that end, it should be noted that this film is one which gives those who choose to engage in it some truly well-done gunplay that literally just seems to seep of realism. Indeed the various firearms the cast utilize to say nothing of their very methodical handling and comprehension of said weaponry really does permit the film to ascend above a lot of its competition whilst also being dignified enough to respect the I.Q. of the audience watching it to say nothing of the laws of physics of course. Yet with all of that being said the finest moments in this film for a lot of people who have watched it are, duh, the absolutely jaw-dropping car chases that, unlike a lot of other films of this ilk, actually are set in narrow streets and back alleys galore with quite a few obstacles to help elevate the risk and peril in each moment. Suffice it to say then that both of these key ingredients are simply a joy and treasure all their own. Indeed both are brilliantly set-up, extremely well-designed and executed, and also act as a riveting ode to both action as a genre of filmmaking, but also as a posterchild of sorts for how this kind of action beat can, and honestly should, be done to get the most enjoyment out of its target audience.

All in all I am very pleased to be able to tell you movie lover that the slice of cinematic pie that is 1998’s Ronin really truly is at the end of the day a top-notch entry in the Action genre of movie magic that also happens to be both absolutely riveting and also fairly intelligent. Indeed here is a movie that manages to present to a potential viewer a group of intriguing, well-thought up, and phenomenally performed characters, a script that is enigmatic in the best way possible while also doing its very best to complement the action beats which, with particular regard to the car chases that are presented to us in this film, are truly second to none, a steady sense of direction courtesy of iconic film helmer John Frankenheimer, terrific work in the cinematography department, a musical accompaniment which fits the film perfectly, and a bonafide star of the silver screen, when he’s not in a film like Dirty Grandpa, in Robert DeNiro who is truly in fine form here along with an electric support cast including Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard, and Natascha McElhone all providing delightful performances of their own. Suffice it to say then that it may not get the kind of love and respect that it deserves, but I believe that Ronin is a truly wonderful example of movie magic done right and a film that you should definitely take the time to hunt down and check out. I promise you will not regret it.  On a scale of 1-5 I give Ronin “98” a solid 3.5 out of 5.